Archive April 2019

History Of Key West

History Of Key West

The History of Key West it’s thoroughly unusual and captivating. The Conch Republic was nothing but a burial ground when Ponce De Leon arrived in 1521. There the name Cayo Hueso “Island of the Bones” came about, and even till this days some Spanish countries know the island for “Cayo Hueso”

The first inhabitants of these tropical islands during the Pre-Columbian times were the Calusa people, a Native American population who lived on the coasts and wetlands of Southwest Florida, and that for some reason they use Key West as their burial ground.

The Calusa were known to travel the areas of the South Florida Peninsula in canoes.

There are no bones scattered over Key West now and when people died they are taken to the local cemetery to rest. The island had gone through the evolution and transformation of modern times to become what is known now as the Conch Republic.

The arrival of Ponce de Leon.

During the times in which the first Spanish Europeans headed by Ponce De Leon got to Florida there was not much to explode in the Florida Keys but because Key West had a reliable supply of fresh water they decided to stay here.Juan Ponce De Leon was in search of the mystical “Fountain of Youth” when he arrived to the Florida territory in April of 1513. He name it La Florida in recognition to the Easter Season and the flowered and green landscape.
Juan Ponce De Leon. (Spaniard)1474-1521. *Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Public Domain.

Being Key West a large island located on the westernmost end of the US, in the busy shipping lane of the Straits of Florida between the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic, close to the Caribbean and only 90 miles from Havana made Key West and important point consequently.

History of Key West as a US Territory.

There were some ownership disputes of Key West during the 1800’s during the times in which Florida was transferred to the United States. Later the Island was sold to John Simonton a US business man for $ 2000 pesos, later sold to General John Geddes, previous governor of South Florida.

During this period in which the Florida Keys were claimed as a US territory and the US flag was planted for posterity the Navy took interest in using the island as a base to fight piracy and slave trade.

It was in March of 1822 when Lt Commander Matthew C Perry arrived to Key West on the US Navy schooner “USS Shark” and planted the US flag here, declaring these islands a property of the US. Thomson then renamed the island now Key West to “Thomson Island “in honor to the chief of the Navy Smith Thomson.

1856 Key West Town.*Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Public Domain.

The earlier developers and the most influential people in Key West History.

After purchasing Key West, Simonton sold the now subdivided territory of the island to other business men and developers. These entrepreneurs started to build the city that we now know, and as you discover Key West, you’ll find their names scattered here and there, since some of the important streets and places had been named after all these famous historical figures.

The four most important developers of Key West’s earlier years:

*John Whitehead. “Whitehead Street” A business partner of Pardon C. Greene and developers of PC Greene and Co. Died shortly after the Civil War.

*Pardon C Greene. “Greene Street “He was the head and founder of PC Greene Co. He later became the mayor of the city for a brief period. Died in 1838.

*John Simonton “Simonton Street “He helped to establish the naval base in the island. He resided in the island only during the winter months and in Washington during the summers. Died in 1854.

*John W.C. Fleming. “Fleming Street “A good friend of John Simonton, spend only a short time in Key West and died shortly after his return to the island.

Sloppy Joe's Bar on Duval and Greene Streets, Key West.
Sloppy Joe’s on Duval and Greene Streets.

*The most famous street in Key West “Duval Street “running north and south of the island is named after William P Duval, the first governor of the state of Florida. Duval Street Guide.

The Conchs, the wrecking and the islands economic development, and some very important points on the Old Town Key West. 

Now days the residents of our city are very proud to be called Conchs, but many people don’t know that the first Conchs to arrive were people with European ancestry who transmigrated here from the Bahamas after 1830.

*Conch. “A resident of Key West”

*Salt Water Conch. “Person born in Key West”

*Fresh Water Conch. “Person who had lives in Key West for several years but wasn’t born here”

*When a baby was born the family would place a conch on a pole in front of their home

The shipwreck salving or wrecking was the mayor industry and business during this years. “the years of the wrecking fever” made Key West the richest city in Florida.

The other two mayor industries were fishing and salt production. In the 1880’s it was the riches city in Florida. Wrecking has a very important place in the History of Key West.

The Shipwreck Museum of Key West, located at the Mallory Square.

The Civil War

In 1861 during the Civil War and when Florida joined the Confederate States, the island remained allied to the States of the Union because of the Naval Base and the auxiliary forces that were present here, contrary to the increasing large support and sympathy of many residents for the Confederates. Many Confederate flags were flown over the roofs of the city.    

Fort Zachary Taylor was an important military base during the Civil War. Later the West and the East Martello Towers were built and were connected by railroad tracks for the movement of ammunition and artillery from one fort to the other.

The Overseas Railroad marks a key point on the 
History of Key West.

With the Henry Flagler’s construction of the Overseas Railroad Extension from Miami to Key West the isolation from the main land ended. From 1912 until the 1935’s Labor Day Hurricane that destroyed the bridges and railways, the railroad was the main transportation system of the Florida Keys.

After the construction of the railroad the Florida Keys became more accessible and popular, more and more business men, politicians, presidents, artists, writers, army retires and high ranking officers, labor workers, common people and some outlaws and crooks, became interested in visiting or residing in the island either permanently or temporarily.

Famous personalities who had visited or lived in Key West.

*Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer’s wife Pauline’s rich uncle purchased this house 1931 as a wedding present for Hemingway. The Hemingway’s House & Museum, 907 Whitehead St, is open to the public and a is famous tourist attraction.

*Jimmy Buffett, the acclaimed “island escapism” musician had made recent history in Key West. His famous song Margaritaville was riten here. Owner of the Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant, 200 Duval St.

 *Tennessee Williams, the writer of “A Street Car Named Desire “stayed at the Concha Hotel in 1947 and bought this house here in 1949, located at 1431 Duncan Street, but the house is not open to the public.

*Harry Truman the 33rd president of the US visited the island an stayed here for long periods. His Winter White House in Truman Annex is open to the public.

*Franklin Roosevelt 32nd president of the US visited Key West in 1939.

*Dwight D “Ike”Eisenhower 34th president of the US stayed fallowing a heart attack.

*John F Kennedy was here shortly after the conclusion of Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War in 1962

*Thomas Edison.

Other important historic events.

*The Cuban immigration to Key West begun as early as 1860 during the Cuban War of Independence from Spain when some politically persecuted Cubans sought refuge in the island.

Being so close to Havana, at only 90 miles, made the island of Key West a point of interest to Cuban immigrants and after a while more than 10 000 Cubans were living, visiting, working or doing business in Key West. Some of the Mayor of Key West had been Cuban descendants.So that’s how Cubans had an role in the History of Key West.

Cuban cigar shop “Cigar City USA” at El Meson De Pepe, in Mallory Square.

*The United States Navy’s Battleship USS Maine departed from Key West to Havana, Cuba to serve during the Spanish American War in 1898, and it was sunk by a sudden mysterious explosion while anchored in the Havana Harbor. The US press blamed Spain for the mysterious sinking that until this days it remains unsolved and open to speculation. The bodies of many of the battleship sailors and crewmen were buried at the city’s Cemetery.

USS Maine Battleship Memorial.

*The Mariel’s Boatlift. Later during the 1980’s Cuban Mariel Boatlift many more refuges came to the island and even some Cuban airplanes were hijacked and forced to land at the city’s international Airport.

*The Conch Republic. The city declared its independence and officially named as theConch Republic as a protest for the blockade of US 1 (main road connection the island to South Florida and the rest of the Keys) The blockade came after the Mariel Boatlift as a way to try to stop the trafficking of drugs. The blockade caused big traffic jams and delays on the motorists traveling on the highly used highway.

*The “Sunward” was the first passenger cruise ship to dock in the islands Navy’s pier, at the Truman Annex. Now they dock at the Mallory Square’s where the sunset celebration takes place every evening.

The Military and the Naval Air Stations.

Due to the strategic location of Key West located near the deep navigation channel connecting the Atlantic with the Gulf of Mexico the military had kept its interest and presence here over the years,

The first military keystone was Fort Zachary Taylor, fallow by the East and West Martello Forts. Then during War World II the Navy took more interest and invested more in the areas of the island.

Conclusion to the History of Key West.

I think that for now you will have better understanding of how the Conch Republic became what is now one of the most visited attraction of South Florida and the reason for Key West having so many historic sites and historical monuments.

Conch Republic.

Safety Tips

Safety Tips

Safety Tips and Boating Information.

The safety tips for navigating in the waters of the Straits of Florida presented in this chapter are basics that every adventurous boater, fisherman or sailor should know. *These basic techniques also apply to navigating anywhere worldwide and not only in our coastal waters.

Since coral reefs, sea grass and shallows are abundant here all around the islands there are things that you need to know to ensure a safe return home; these corals, rocks and sea grass are within inches of the surface in many areas, some near shore and others on the open waters.

Navigating in the waters of the Florida Keys requires that you know some important things.

Some navigation instruction, training or education should be attained before trying to navigate these waters, remember that so many ships sunk in these waters in the past, that the Florida Keys became the wrecking capital of the world. Check in Florida Keys History “And shortly after…the wrecking began!”

The Great Florida Coral Reefs Track is the third largest coral system in the world and it extends from the Biscayne National Park, south of Miami and all the way to the Marquesas Islands, 30 miles west of Key West. So navigating any where in these areas near the Keys requires that you know how to avoid “running aground” with your boat, the use of navigation charts, safety and good seamanship.   

Safety Tips

The color of the water

*The color of the water is a very important factor not to be ignored. Remember these safety tips.

*CAUTION! Brown water.*Don’t go through any colored brown water; find your way around, brown color means that the water is too shallow and that coral formations might be  present. Running aground is dangerous for you; your boat and it will damage our very sensitive coral reefs.

The color brown indicates a shallow water area or coral reefs.

*CAUTION! White water*. The water around sand bars will appear white, sand bars are shallower than you can predict and any boat will run aground here. Stir your way around sand bars.

White water indicates the presence of sand bars and shallows.

*SAFER! Green water*. Safer for skiffs, small size and flat bottom boats. Larger size boats should be cautious on green waters! And also take in consideration the tides and the ocean currents.

Green waters are safer for small boats but pay attention to signs, indicators and buoys.

*SAFE! Blue water*. Deep waters appear blue. Normally these waters are free from corals, sand bars or sea grass but keep in mind those coral reefs formations could increase in high surprisingly in some areas. Use the reef mooring buoys or the sandy areas to anchor, never anchor in the coral.

Blue water indicates that the water is deep enough and safer for navigation.

Use the navigation charts

*THE NAVIGATION CHARTS. Boaters should carry, know how to read and use marine charts, tide and current tables for the waters they are navigating.

The NOAA navigation chartsand tablesfor U.S and international waters are complete, reliable and updated regularly.These charts are printed in high quality paper, colored and detailed for clear understanding.*Contact the NOAA charts publication department for more detailed information. They are also available at every marine supply store of the Florida Keys.

NOAA nautical charts website.-

What to do and not to do if you run aground

*RUNNING AGROUND means that your vessel had run onto a reef, sand bar or the bottom of the ocean floor and now you’re helpless and stuck in the middle of nowhere.

First of all don’t panic, turn off your engine right away. Radio the Coast Guard Marine Patrol, using the VHF channel 16 for assistance; give an account of the situation, your coordinates, location and a description of the vessel.

Boaters should have a good operational radio with batteries. A cell phone could be used if not too far from shore but the communication is limited in the water, (dialing CG-coast guard works in some areas)

*Don’t try getting out by yourself unless you’re a very experience captain because it will damage your boat and the reef farther more creating more damage, do not shift into reverse or try to push free across” assess the situation. Be cool! Check for hull damage, condition of the tide, and your location.

Safety Tips

Other safety tips for navigation

*BOATING EQUIPMENT. Life jackets for each person on board and an additional floating device that can be throw over board , hand held and dated flares, at list three for night and day distress signals, a sound producing device, horn, bell or whistle, fire extinguishers, an navigation lights.

Life inflatable jackets and floating devices should be on board.
Shop all Life Jackets and PFD’s at West Marine

*SPEED. The speed is regulated on busy or dangerous navigational channels and is marked by speed zones and markers. Never speed up in shallow waters.

Watch the signs, buoys and speed indicators.

*DIVERS DOWN FLAGS. One of the Florida Keys recreational activities is diving. Thousands of scuba divers and snorkelers come to admire the coral reefs and dive sites. Watch for divers in this areas that should be marked by the diver down flags, don’t run ever them, go around.

Divers are required to make aware of  their presence in the area by using flags on floats.

*WEATHER. Don’t navigate with rough weather; check the weather prior to going out, the weather channel provides 24 hr. information.

*PROTECTED SPECIES. You find many animal protected species and plants in the shallow waters. Green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles and fresh water turtles, manatees, the American crocodile, dolphins are all protected species.

The coral reefs are also protected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And are part of the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary.

Florida manatees can be found in fresh water rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.

My honest recommendation is that you should study and get educated on all of the aspects of boating safety and navigation before you go out at sea. Study the curses offered and approved by the U.S Coast Guard and qualified institutions. The safety tips and techniques offered in this section are just a small fraction of the things that you need to know to become a proficient boater.

For more information about boating in the Florida Keys go to the NOAA and the U.S Coast Guard

Be safe, fallow our safety tips and we’ll see you soon!

Florida Weather

Florida Weather

The Weather of South Florida

The South Florida Weather as you probably know is humid tropical in nature. In the areas of the Florida Keys and all over the state of Florida is warm most the time. We have sunny days and crowded beaches all year.

We are in the tropics and the days are hot, with plenty of sun, blue sky…and this is…tropical weather.

The average temperature in South Florida during the summer is 80 F or (27 C)…Yes it get hot down here! Is beach time all over Southern Florida. It also rains a lot during the summer month.

The average temperatures during the winter months of November, December, January and February are 65 F (18 C) to 75 F (23 C). (But normally are 70 F to 75 F). Is this really winter?

As you can see the winter temperatures are moderate, but in some days you might need a light jacket. It’s common to have one or two days of colder temperatures and then back to 70 F or 75 F degrees. These are also the dry season months, when it does not rain in Southern Florida.

Florida Weather
Bright and sunny days in Key West

The average warmest month is August, and January is the coolest. The highest average rainfall is in September. And the highest temperature ever recorded was 100 degrees.

About the rainy season

The rainy season in South Florida begins with the summer season, which begins around June and it should be ending around October.August and September are the months with more rain.It’s normal to have rain every day, for the greatest part in the afternoons during August and September becoming more scarce at the end of September.

Sometimes the rains are accompanied of thunderstorms and winds.

  • Avoid distractions..! Keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel!

Tips for driving with bad weather and heavy rain: Make sure your head lights and windshields are on. Check them before getting on the road.Increase the fallowing distance and slow down a bit. It takes longer to stop during rain and the road could be slippery when wet. Reason why the breaks should not be pressed to hard if you need to slow down… Slow down gradually.

Florida Weather

The Florida weather has the characteristics of the tropics and sub tropics, where hurricanes come and go as fast as they can, sometimes causing trouble, but this is only during the hurricane season, August, September or October…and there has not been any major hurricane here since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 or the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

The rest of the year we have the freedom of waking on the beaches.

We have some great weather forecasters here, for all to be aware of mother nature’s next steps! We see them in the evening news on TV all the time informing us of what is to come ahead.

It’s normal to have temperatures of 70’s or 80’s during the month of December. I was on the beach for Christmas and boat sailing two weeks later…No wander they call Florida the Sunshine State!

Florida has been blessed with this characteristics, these are the reason for having so many beautiful tourists on our beaches at all times.

You see people that come here every year during the winter months to sun bathe on our beaches……

From all over the world we got friends, and we are proud of it!

They love the South Florida Weather as much as we do!

Key West Beaches

Key West Beaches

About the Beaches of Key West

Regarding Beaches of Key West, the first thing that comes to mind is …Are there beaches in Key West? Yes, we have beaches here! Not so many but just a few.

As you probably know that being the Florida Keys a coral archipelago the beaches are scarce and mostly what we have are rocky shores, and the action here is mostly concentrated around marine activities like diving into the coral reefs, exploring the ship wrecks, sunset sailing cruises, kayaking along the shores, and sport fishing.

The southernmost city in the continental U.S is not so notorious for the beaches like other cities of South Florida are, but it’s very rewarded for the culture and the festive ambiance prevalent. There is always a party going on here, or some kind of event or celebration.

You come here to have a good time for sure! Probably during Spring Break, Fantasy Fest, or just simply to visit this exotic Caribbean American artistic and colorful town, because Key West is unique!

But what about the Key West beaches?

There are a few here and there. Four that I recommend because they have good quality, and even when they are not on the top 10 list of worlds super beaches they deserve some attention.

But keep in mind that these are not the beaches of the South, Center Florida or the Gulf Coast with the white sand out or under the water, so it’s a good idea to bring a pair of water shoes if you plant to get in the water.

So here are these four best Beaches in Key West

Smathers Beach

It’s a beach on the south of the town not far from the airport with plenty of white sand (I heard that the sand came from somewhere else which it makes sense since Key West is a big coral rock formation)

There is a party type of atmosphere going on at this beach; alternative life style people gatherings, families parties, singles or couples, foreign and national tourists, the young and old and water sport enthusiasts.

Aquatic sports at Smathers

It’s a free entrance beach, with metered parking along the well-known Roosevelt Blvd. The beach has volleyball courts, bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables, and beach paraphernalia rentals. 

Fort Zachary Taylor’s Beach

A family oriented beach.

Fort Zachary Taylor is another important historic landmark in Key West. The fort’s construction was started in 1845 and finish in 1866.

Fort Zach or Fort Taylor (locally known) was used by the U.S military throughout the Spanish-American War and discarded by the army to become a museum and historic landmark after 1947.

And if you believe in ghosts and hauntings Fort Taylor shares the reputation of being one of the towns haunted sites!…Heard voices in the dark room?

On the area behind the fort you’ll find the beach which is a nice beach to sunbathe, picnicking, bike riding, and nature watching, we’ll find families with their children, and on the nearby rocky side of the beach is an area for fishing right by the fishing channel.

The picnic area at the Zachary Taylor’s Beach

South Beach

 In Key West it’s the southernmost beach.

It’s a small beach right behind the Southernmost Cafe and Bar, famous for its location I guess, being here is special and if you can swim 90 miles you could reach the Cuba’s territory.

You’ll find South Beach at the south end of Duval Street.

South Beach most of the times is quite, but if you go during Spring Break or the Fantasy Fest you will find some party and partial nudity going on.

Clarence S. Higgs Beach (commonly known as Higgs Beach)

Yoga on the beach at Higgs.

You’ll probably find a party or two, people just hanging out and socializing at the beach, reading, sunbathing, yoga groups in practice, people walking their dogs, or with metal detectors combing the sand for a lost treasure.

A great beach for sun bathing.

Beach Information Center:

Monroe County’s Beach and Recreation. 305 295 4385.

To conclude this chapter about the Beaches of Key West, Florida

Make the beaches in Key West part of the vacation package-other points that you might want to visit while visiting this town, Key West is an action packed territory out of the ordinary and a great tourist destination, but just don’t expect to find the the long sandy beaches of the other part of Florida, just that the atmosphere around could be interesting and something new to experience!

John Pennekamp State Park

John Pennekamp State Park

A Day at the John Pennekamp State Park

Ready for the glass bottom boat rides, kayaking, snorkeling, camping, some fishing and beach time?

Getting to the John Pennekamp State Park early in the morning on any day of the year is always better.

The park opens as early as 8:00 am and it’s fully operational until sundown, all 365 days of the year. In the early morning is quiet, almost empty. This is a good time to explore the areas and get familiar with the environment as well as to get the best parking spaces in the park.

The entrance to the park is at the Mile Marker 102.5 of US 1 in the Key Largo’s main sectioIt’s a flat rate admission fee of $8:00 per vehicle that you pay at the entrance when arriving to the base camp of the park. RV’s and campers pay a different rate.

Look for the big sign where the entrance is in Key Largo.

The John Pennekamp Park in the quietness of a Florida Keys early morning.

As the day progresses an affluence of visitors of all ages and from every place imaginable started to arrive…Canada, Europe, Asia, Japan…The last time that I visited the park a bus full of students from a junior high school in lost Angeles, California were there.

Dozens of children and families are swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and participating in just about any of the activities that this recreational facility has to offer.

The John Pennekamp State Park has a treasure to offer…The coral reefs!

This is the first underwater park in the U.S, and is also located in the one and only coral reef barrier in North America. “The Great Florida Coral Reef Barrier” Where else can we go to admire such a thing? 

Glass bottom boats, snorkeling, or scuba diving tours are the way to explore these coral formations. From the park you can take a boat tour to the best dive sites in the underwater park. The tours are guided by the tour captain and its crew experts on the field, and they know where the best diving locations are in this vast area of the Upper Florida Keys. 

The best coral formations in the Great Florida Coral Reef Barrier are said to be at this Underwater Park. Well preserved and with swarms of tropical fish.So the main attraction to the park are these corals and the abundant sea life that inhabits in this underwater forest.
In addition, you probably know by now that Key Largo is considered as the Diving Capital of the World by many! Diving in Key Largo?

Located on the Dry Rocks Reef and near Key Largo is the statue of Jesus of the Deep or the “Christ of the Deep” (a bronze 9 feet toll sculpture of Jesus Christ under 25″ of water)…This is one of the most visited underwater sites in the world!

The Christ of the Deep is located at the Dry Rock Reef, in Key Largo.

Scuba diving enthusiasts either begginers or advance might like to check at the PADI 5 Star Gold Palm Scuba Shop located at the head quarters of the park.

They offer courses from the Introduction to Scuba Diving Resort Course to the more Advance Open Water Training Course and Certification.

Getting active at the base camp of the Pennekamp’s park.

Kayaking, canoeing, boating, fishing and bicycling are other ways of getting the feeling of adventure and get active, while exploring the water ways surrounded by mangroves where the white heron, the egret, pelicans and other wild birds of the tropical nature inhabit.

These waters have abundant Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, Snapper, Trout, and Bonefish. So anglers come to these flats and shallow waters to have a great fishing experience.

*Our video: Snorkeling the Cannon Beach’s Spanish Wreck, A FloridaKeysXperienceImage on Youtube.

Cannon Beach is the famous beach in one of the two beaches of the park where the remains of an earlier 17th century Spanish shipwreck is sunk at approximately 100 feet offshore. 

The camp site at John Pennekamp

The park has one of the best camp sites of the Florida Keys,with capacity for big rigs, RVs, and tents with picnic areas, showers and bathrooms.

What am i missing about the John Pennekamp State Park on this review?Well, remember to follow the rules of the park while you are having a good time here.Keep yourself informed about the weather, the rain could ruin your day…and i will see you around the Florida Keys any time soon!
John D Pennekamp

Miami Herald newspaper editor, daily columnist and passionate conservationist, he leaded the campaign in the struggle to save and  establish the Everglades as a National Park in 1947.
The 75 mile coral reef offshore underwater park in Key Largo was named after him.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in January of 1897 and died in 1978.